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Fully protected & living dangerously

August 3, 2009 4 comments

I was chatting with a work colleague last week about the years of my life I spent living in the middle-eastern country of Oman. She commented that she thought I was very brave to uproot my Australian life, travel across the globe and start living in another, quite different culture. A culture that has been associated with (wrongly or rightly) abuse of womens rights and human rights.  A culture that is oft seen by the often poorly informed west as being “not safe”.

Later I thought about what she said. Was I brave? I don’t believe so. Certainly I saw the opportunity to move to the middle east as incredibly exciting. But I didn’t see I needed to be “brave” about immersing myself into a completely different culture.

I’m a woman. At the time I was a married woman. Therefore, under Muslim culture, I was protected and safe. Protected by my husband. And also protected by the families of all who respected him.  Of course, he was regarded as a VIP of sorts. Not quite up there with the diplomats and heads of states, but of great usefulness to the Sultanate of Oman and  hence accorded some wonderful respect and experiences.

So, I, and my children, were very safe, and very protected.  We had a truly wonderful time in Oman, and my children chose to stay on after my husband and I divorced.  Even during the divorce, I was accorded strict respect and protection, many thanks to the local mullah and my husband’s male work colleagues. (The divorce proceedings didn’t turn unpleasant until after I returned to Australia.)

No bravery required.  Because the culture I was a guest of is a peaceful one, one that showed the loveliness and beauty of living Islam.  This was before 9/11, so maybe things changed on the Arabian Peninsula after the terrorist attacks in the USA.

Now, I am not a Muslim, nor was my husband.  Nor were we Christians although the locals we met all assumed we were. In the end, we just went along with the “yeah, Christians” line. It was easier to get the paperwork through the machinery of bureaucracy.

Where I was brave was in making the choice to contine with a lifestyle choice that isn’t generally regarded as being conservative or sometimes, socially acceptable.  That was living dangerously.  Opting to enjoy (very carefully) certain lifestyle practices within a very conservative and highly religious culture.  In a part of the world where there were a lot of soldiers with guns.  This bit I didn’t discuss with my work colleague, not being entirely sure how she would accept the revelation.  Sometimes it is easier to go with the assumptions that I’ve always been, and am still, a conservative, regular married woman with children.

It feels like I’m placed in a box labelled “conservative & conformist, socially acceptable”.

Sometimes I’d like to jump out of that box and scream, “wrong bloody box”!

I have to remind myself that we all make judgements, warranted or otherwise. We all make assumptions about others based on incomplete stories about that person. Often we’re right in our assumptions. But sometimes we are not, and those of us from minority groups know all about feeling we’ve been put in the wrong box.

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